Saturday, 31 July 2010

Hunt To Live

There is no doubt, Greenland is an inhospitable terrain.

We visited in June, in perpetual daylight and during a Northern hemisphere heatwave.

In winter, its nearly always dark, with howling winds and freezing sub-zero temperatures.

We saw what looked like a metal garden shed, which is used as a winter morgue (they cannot bury the deceased in winter because the ground is frozen).

The sub-zero temperatures keeps the bodies until spring.

In the summer months, the children play, the men hunt and the women make beautifully decorated clothes.

Seals are still hunted for meat and skins, although with rifle and outboard these days, rather than kayak.

This is the local fish market. Greenlanders were happy to let us try raw seal meat.

The black object at the back of the table is a seal flipper. The rest of the meat is assorted parts of seal.

Cold water fish are also plentiful and I couldn't name all the species.

Even the children play at hunting; in this case, trying to hook crabs.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Closing with the Natives

And so, we closed with the natives of Greenland.

Pretty terrifying, aren't they ??

All joking aside, they were very nice people. The local kids spoke Greenlandish (or is that Greenlandic), English and Danish. Obviously brighter than me who only speaks English, a smattering of French and Anglo-Saxon.

Its not often that you arrive somewhere and the locals aren't trying to rip you off and sell you things within minutes.

The inhabitants of Greenland appeared genuinely interested to meet visitors from Europe, although the crew of our ship would have put the crew of Johnny depp to shame on the Black Pearl.

We had a Scottish captain, Croatian chief mate, a bluenoser second (from Newfoundland) and an Irish third mate. Jolly the bosun is from one of those head hunting islands up Borneo way and the engineers ?? - no-one knows or cares - they are all pale skinned troglydytes who don't see enough daylight.

It was nice to see that the Greenlandish still use traditional forms of transport - these girls probably wouldn't have been allowed to paddle these inuit kayaks in the good 'ole macho hunting days.
In the 21st century, the boats are made of GRP rather than sealskin. The days of being stitched into your boat and relying on the "eskimo roll" technique with those thin paddles, to save your life from a capsize (few inuits could swim - well would you want swimming lessons with icebergs ?) might have gone, but I noticed a small animal skull on the bow of the black to ward off evil..

This is an Inuit menu for the local take away - do you want whale with that sir ?

Little fishing boats and bigger fishing boats..Greenland style.
Seals are still hunted for meat and clothes but more of that in the next death defying episode.

Monday, 12 July 2010

It's Obvious Really

Life is funny - sometimes obvious things stare you in the face and you don't see them until you trip over it.

My day job is designing, servicing and installing electrical equipment and systems on ocean going ships.

The hourly labour rates for that sort of work are quite high, so if something needs to be installed on a ship which will involve long-winded labour-intensive tasks like running long cables, penetrating steel bulkheads to get the cables through etc, the people who own the ships will generally pay labourers (at a lower hourly rate) to do that work and then hire somebody like me to design it, draw it, connect it up, set it up and so on. This keeps my chargeable time to a minimum.

This has been the accepted way in my business for as long as I can remember.

Coming back to the subject of canals, when I talk to fellow boaters and they tell me in passing that they have installed a new inverter or similar, but its not working properly as they've used the wrong cable or its not got adequate ventilation etc, I often ask them why they didn't pay a professional to do it.

The answer is always the same - we couldn't afford it.

It occurs to me that the electrical needs of the shipowner and narrowboater are similar - get a good job done, but at minimal cost.

Many boaters are quite capable of the DIY skills needed for 95% of the installation.

They sometimes just need a little help and guidance on the difficult electrical bits.

Experience often means that I can see an easy way of installing something that will save a lot of work and unnecessary parts. Often I can save them money by knowing where to use the more expensive components and where the cheaper components will work fine.

I've been doing bits and pieces on narrowboats for quite a while and of late, I tend to follow a set pattern.

I tend to visit the boat initially to do a site visit, make a drawing of how it needs to be done on that particular boat layout and "spec" (and sometimes obtain) all the bits that are needed in the form of a kit. Often the boater will buy the parts themselves using a shopping list that I provide - this saves them money.

The boater then does all the time consuming parts at their leisure according to the plan, like mount the units, run the cables in, etc.

If they have a question - they phone or e-mail me. A lot can be resolved by digital photos etc.

When they are ready, I go back to the boat once more and wire up what they have done, carry out any specialised bits like making up battery connectors etc and commission the installation.

This way, the cost of all-out time consuming labour is avoided and the boater gets a properly designed and specified installation for a few hours paid labour.

By the way, I don't and couldn't charge big ship labour rates to inland waterway boat owners, but it helps to keep the wolf from the door between deep sea jobs.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Hummocks, Bummocks and Bergy Bits

In the Arctic, icebergs originate mainly in the glaciers of the Greenland ice cap which contains approximately 90% of the total land ice of the Northern hemisphere.

Due to the prevailing currents, many drift down the east coast around Cape Farewell, which is the Southerly-most tip of Greenland and then head North up the Davis Strait, which is the other side from Iceland.

A much larger crop of icebergs come from glaciers in Baffin Bay - it has been estimated that more than 40,000 icebergs are present there at any one time.

There are many types and formations of icebergs - they almost have their own language, which is where todays blog post title comes from.
Hummocks, Bummocks and bergy bits are all formations of ice.

After leaving British waters (we last saw the West of Scotland a long way off), our first landfall was just North of Cape Farewell (Cape Greeting or Cape Hello might have been a more apt name).
Not very friendly these Greenlanders, when you've only just arrived.
Better than Cape Sod-Off I suppose.

Anyway, we soon started sighting icebergs in the distance.

Greenland was said to have been discovered by the Vikings and has had an on-off relationship with the Scandinavian countries ever since.

Technically, it is currently a possession of Denmark.

Most Greenlanders speak Danish as well as Greenlandish and the Danish Krone is the coin of the realm.

They have their own parliament, have been allowed to call all the settlements by their native names and receive a lot of money from the Danish crown.

The Danish aren't silly, especially if there really is a lot of oil and minerals there.

Anyway, the icebergs gradually got bigger as we got further North.

We motored up and down for a while, but eventually decided we needed a few fresh items and decided to close with the natives.

After so much sea and wilderness (we had hardly seen any ships since we left the Irish Sea), it was exciting to watch the coloured dots of a distant settlement growing larger in our binnoculars, until eventually you could make out people and cars moving (well - what did you expect ? - huskies).

Getting as close as we dare in the sheltered fjord, we eventually dropped anchor, parted our hair, brushed our teeth and launched the rescue boat.

NEXT - Trading with the locals

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Northward Bound - Cobh

I haven't blogged for a while - sorry.

I wanted to fit Willawaw with some solar panels to help charge the batteries when the boat is left unattended, so ironically, I left her at a boatyard for safe keeping and got a short contract at sea, to earn some money.

It came to pass that I was soon winging my way to Cork in Ireland to join an offshore oil supply vessel, which was bound for the Arctic Circle.

A U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that some 50 billion barrels of oil may be found offshore of Greenland.

The portion of the Labrador Current flowing through Davis Strait off western Greenland is known as “iceberg alley” because huge chunks of ice that calve from the northern glaciers make their way into the northern Atlantic along this route.

Ironically, global warming, which has melted some of the Arctic glaciers, has made offshore drilling in these waters more feasible.

My ship was due to work on the coast of Greenland, to further this end.

It was a further irony that our sojourn into the icebergs should start from the last port of call of the RMS Titanic - Cobh (or Queenstown as it was known in 1912).

This pier could well be the last earthly point that her passengers touched.

There is also a rather gloomy memorial to those lost on the Lusitania when she was torpedoed in 1915 by a German U-Boat off Kinsale Head with the loss of nearly 1200 people.

Its not that Cobh is a sad place - quite the opposite and Kellys Bar on the waterfront at Cobh went a long way to make up for it, with copious amounts of Guinness, Smithwicks and Jamiesons chasers being consumed prior to sailing for Greenland.

Obviously, too much was drunk as I could have sworn that the local Garda police station looked like an aircraft carrier.